ROCHESTER — Bishop Matthew H. Clark shared his reflections on forgiveness Sept. 29 with several dozen people gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral for an evening conversation sponsored by the diocesan Women’s Commission.
God’s love for his people and his ability to forgive are so deep and immense that they can be difficult to truly understand, Bishop Clark said.
“The power and depth of God’s forgiveness is beyond our imagining,” he said.
The Women’s Commission chose “forgiveness” as this year’s theme for its annual day of reflection, which will be held Oct. 25 from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Nazareth College in Pittsford, said Janie Marini, a member of the Women’s Commission who served on the event’s planning committee. Bishop Clark’s Sept. 29 discussion served as a precursor to the October event, which will feature gospel singer ValLimar Jansen as its keynote speaker.
Planning-committee members focused on forgiveness because it’s a universal theme that speaks to everyone, Marini said. Different aspects of the Sept. 29 and Oct. 25 events will probably speak to different people in different ways, she added.
“I think every person will take away something different,” Marini said. “I think what resonates with them is what they will take into their daily lives.”
Similarly, each individual’s attitudes about forgiveness are probably shaped, at least in part, by his or her own life experiences, Bishop Clark said during the Sept. 29 discussion. Scripture also has played a big role in shaping Christians’ thoughts about forgiveness and its importance, he added, citing three of his favorite forgiveness-themed Scripture passages.
One of those is Jesus’ well-known parable of the prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32. In this parable a father divides his estate between his two sons. One son takes his portion, leaves his father and wastes all his money on worldly pleasures. His older brother, meanwhile, remained at home and worked for his father.
When the younger son’s money ran out he returned home, ashamed of squandering his inheritance, and asked to work for his father as a servant. The father not only runs to the young son and welcomes him back — as a son, not as a servant — but he also throws a feast.
“It happens to be my favorite as sort of capturing the … liberal, abundant generosity of God,” Bishop Clark said of the parable.
Another Scripture passage, which is found in Matthew 18:23-35, is Jesus’ story of an indebted servant who begged his master to be patient with him. The compassionate master forgave the servant’s debt and the servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a debt. Instead of being compassionate, however, the servant showed no mercy and demanded his fellow servant repay the debt. When the master learned of this, he was angry and restored the first servant’s debt.
The third passage is Matthew’s account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. After he gives them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive you.”
“That’s powerful,” Bishop Clark said. “(Forgiveness) is still God’s gift, but it’s how we share the gift that is so important in our response to God.”
Bishop Clark asked those in attendance to reflect on their own lives and whether there were people in their own lives they’d offended and should ask forgiveness from.
“It’s always helpful to approach that moment in prayer in which we ask to remember how deeply loved we are by God and how deeply loved the person who we are approaching is by God,” he said.
Granting forgiveness can be just as hard as asking for it, he noted, sharing an anecdote of a brief conversation he’d once had with a woman. This woman had wanted badly to forgive a friend who’d offended her but just couldn’t seem to bring herself to do it.
“I think some folks think forgiving means I don’t mind what’s happened or I accept it now. It doesn’t mean that,” Bishop Clark said.
Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily make a wound go away, he said. If a child accidentally hits you in the shins, for example, you’ll probably forgive despite the pain you feel.
“You certainly want an ending to the pain. But forgiving others doesn’t make the pain go away in your shins,” the bishop said.
Some are afraid to ask for forgiveness because they fear reigniting anger in the other person by bringing up the incident, while others doubt their ability to grant forgiveness, Bishop Clark said. The simple act of forgiveness, however, can serve as a gateway to conversion for both people, Bishop Clark said.
“Do you think you need to wait until something is totally peaceful before you forgive, or do you think you will find peace by forgiving? I don’t think we can wait until everything is in perfect order before stepping out to forgive others,” he said.